Comparison of insectivory by sympatric western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees in lowland rainforest, southeast Cameroon


Social insects constitute a small but regular and deliberate part of the diet of sympatric western lowland gorillas and chimpanzees. I provide the first comparative and multidisciplinary study on this neglected aspect of their ecology. I examine whether they show niche differentiation in their insect diet, as they do in their plant diet, taking into account nutritional and ecological characteristics of their insect prey. In the first section of my study inter-site comparisons show that local traditions in insectivorous behaviour seem to exist in both chimpanzees and gorillas. However, at most great ape study sites detailed ecological data are lacking. Both study species also seem more insectivorous in secondary than in primary forest sites, which might partly be explained by a higher availability of prey species in secondary forest. Differences in prey choice between chimpanzees and gorillas in southeast Cameroon cannot only be explained by the capability of using tools, but also seem to be influenced by nutritional factors. Further, future research should focus on medicinal properties of ant and termite prey. In the second part it becomes clear that the study site in southeast Cameroon is a biodiversity hotspot of termites and ants. A wide variety and high density of microhabitats, as available at this site, is essential for high termite species diversity, which maintains optimal ecosystem functioning. I also found that ant assemblages in African rainforests are extremely dynamic and depend on a complex combination of availability of food resources, nest sites and predators. Chimpanzees and gorillas do not consume the most abundant termite and ant species. They choose species with very visible nesting sites or activity, although this is not necessarily the case with all their ant prey species. Finally, in the third section, my study demonstrates niche differentiation in the insect diet of chimpanzees and gorillas in southeast Cameroon. Chimpanzees use a ‘high-energy’ strategy and gorillas a ‘low-energy’ strategy when feeding on non-winged termites. Although ant grub consumption is underestimated, both seem to use a ‘low-energy’ strategy when feeding on ants.  These results are useful in conservation planning, zoo nutrition programs, paleo-ecological and cultural primatology studies.


chimpanzee, gorilla, termites, ants, diet, niche differentiation, insectivory, Cameroon, Africa


Terrestrial Ecology {Research discipline}
Conservation and Biodiversity {Research discipline}
Species {Integration level}
Ecosystem {Integration level}
International (non-EU) {Cooperation status}
Conservation, Restoration and Sustainable use of Biodiversity {Research orientation}
Cameroon {Geographical scope}
Forest {Habitat type}
In-situ Conservation {Research purpose}
Insecta {Taxonomical scope}
Mammalia {Taxonomical scope}


Name Role Amount
BOF unknown


Name Role Start End
Deblauwe, Isra member 2001-05-01 2008-04-01


Name Role Start End
Conservation member 2001-05-01 2008-04-01


Reference Role
 Deblauwe I., Dupain J., Nguenang G. M., Werdenich D. & Van Elsacker L. (2003) Insectivory by Gorilla gorilla gorilla in southeast Cameroon. International Journal of Primatology 24 (3): 493-502. author
 Werdenich D., Dupain J., Arnhem E., Julve C., Deblauwe I. & Van Elsacker L. (2003) Reactions of chimpanzees and gorillas to human observers in a non-protected area in south-eastern Cameroon. Folia Primatologica 74: 97-100. author
 Deblauwe I., Guislain P., Dupain J. & Van Elsacker L. (2006) Use of a tool-set by Pan troglodytes troglodytes to obtain termites (Macrotermes) in the periphery of the Dja Biosphere Reserve, Southeast Cameroon. American Journal of Primatology 68 (12): 1191-1196. author
 Deblauwe I. & Dekoninck W. (2007a) Diversity and distribution of ground-dwelling ants in a lowland rainforest in southeast Cameroon. Insectes Sociaux 54 (4): 334-342. author
 Deblauwe I. & Dekoninck W. (2007b) Spatio-temporal patterns of ground-dwelling ant assemblages in a lowland rainforest in southeast Cameroon. Insectes Sociaux 54 (4): 343-350. author
 Deblauwe I. & Janssens G. P. J. (2008) New insights in insect prey choice by chimpanzees and gorillas in Cameroon: the role of nutritional value. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 135 (1): 42-55. author
 Deblauwe I., Dibog L., Missoup A. D., Dupain J., Van Elsacker L., Dekoninck W., Bonte D. & Hendrickx F. (2008) Spatial scales affecting termite diversity in tropical lowland rainforest: a case study in southeast Cameroon. African Journal of Ecology 46 (1): 5-18. author
 Deblauwe I. (2006) New evidence of honey-stick use by chimpanzees in southeast Cameroon. Pan African News 13 (1): 2-4. author
 Deblauwe I. (2006) How insectivorous are gorillas? Gorilla Journal 33: 20-21. author
 Deblauwe I. (2009) Temporal variation in insect-eating by chimpanzees and gorillas in southeast Cameroon: extension of niche differentiation. International Journal of Primatology 30: 229-252. author
 Deblauwe I. (2002) Kleine beestjes op het menu van de grote mensapen in Kameroen. Zoo Magazine 68 (3): 18-19. author
 Deblauwe I. (2005) Kameroenese chimpansees eten termieten met twee stokjes! Zoo Magazine 71 (3): 24-25. author

created:2011-12-14 14:18:59 UTC, source:web

© 2012 by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform